Friday, May 22, 2009

More fun with math

This is what happens when you're walking through the woods and you aren't thinking of things that are important: You start thinking about stuff that isn't important. It was one of those times that I realized I seem to have a propensity for the underdog.

  • 74% of the US population is christian. 1.7% is jewish, 0.7% Buddhist, 0.6% Muslim, 0.4% Hindu, 1.2% Other. I am none of the above (which puts me in a 16% grouping).1
  • 43% of the US population is Democrat. 33% is Republican. I am neither (24% grouping).2
  • 80% of the US population lives in urban areas. That puts me in the 20% group.3
  • 89.9% of computer users use Microsoft. 9.1% are Mac users. I'm left in the 0.76% using some flavor of Linux. (My previous home desktop flavor of choice was SunOS, which presumably is rolled into the 0.01% 'other' category.)4
  • I am in the 44% of folks that are childless by choice.5

The population of the US is estimated to be 304,059,724.6 Assuming that the percentages above have no significant grouping (i.e. assuming a Linux user is no more likely to be non-Republican, non-Democrat, childless or live in the country...) and assuming no substantial geographic grouping (which is a bad assumption) this means there would be a 0.0025% chance of meeting folks like myself. If applied to the population of my county (201,277), there are 5 of us and I am married to one of them. No wonder I have issues making friends.

I tried to find statistics on people's views of low-fat vs low-carb and really couldn't find anything useful. I suspect if I had found these stats and applied them to my "study" that I would be required by law to leave the county.

  1. Wikipedia: Religion in the United States
  2. Wikipedia: Democratic Party
  3. Population: USA Facts
  4. StatOwl: Operating Systems Usage
  5. Wikipedia: Childfree. This is a little fudged since the statistic is for women. Men's stats are a little hard to find, presumably because of the cost of cross referencing the DNA of every person that could possibly be your child.
  6. Google: Population

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

from the mailbag...

Interesting... I just got an official memo. I have been approved for mowing.

Subject: Please open immediately. Urgent material inside. (bulk postage)

Dear Farm Boy,

The Flower Czar has determined that as of May 20, 2009, the following areas may be mowed:

* The entire cleared "homestead" area, including up the hill towards the uphill neighbor, around the grapes/bonusberries and around the butterfly garden.

* The front woods, both sides of the driveway. The Flower Czar can help you pick out things not to be mowed.

* The meadow, down to the bee tree, avoiding the Indian paintbrushes and the planted flowers (there are t-posts).

* A small area immediately around the pecans, to keep them visible and to keep them from competing for water.

Areas *not* ready to mow:

* The power line right-of-way is just beginning to bloom. Please wait until the black-eyed susans have finished blooming before mowing, possibly right before July 4.

* In the meadow, from the bee tree to the back of the property, there are some wildflowers (coreopsis/black-eyed susans) about to bloom. You should be able to mow this area at the same time as the right-of-way.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Flower Czar

Mandating technology

Let met get this straight... The government wants to mandate (or up the mandate) technology with new CAFE standards. And then the government wants to actually build the cars that meet the standards. Is the next thing on the agenda a mandate as to which car I should buy?

I'm just saying: this doesn't sound like it would go well. Presumably GM was already making their best guess at what was "most sellable" vs "most efficient". I say presumably because -- well, they haven't quite been successful lately. So mandating what will be sold via CAFE ... I'm not entirely sure that is going to go in GM's favor. The most recent numbers I could find online (or the most recent I found when I stopped trying) show the Honda/Toyota crowd to be well ahead of GM... almost to the point of meeting the new proposed standards. My guess is that a chip tweak and they are there (at the slight expense of horsepower).

If I were in charge of one of the auto companies, this would be my plan:

Let the government test it at full efficiency... Then let the consumer choose.

The whole thing reminds me of A Nice Morning Drive -- which was a fictionalized product of the same type of government mandates as it was applied to safety. And if you don't recognize Morning Drive... shame on you.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The face of the housing crisis

Okay, there are a million guilty faces in this crisis (besides Alan Greenspan). This is only one of them. But this guy sort of makes me sick. You can read the article if you want to. (But NYT will probably make you register. I'd use bugmenot if it were me.) But whatever you do, DO NOT buy his book. You're already going to be bailing out his mortgage -- probably both on the bank end and on his end. I see no reason to give him any more money. If you don't bother reading it, here's the highlights:

  • a financial reporter for the New York Times. Yes, I said financial reporter.
  • $120,000 base salary and about $50,000 annual alimony/child support liability, leaving him with a $33,000 take home salary after taxes.
  • buys a $460,000 house knowing ahead of time he cannot afford it
  • attempts one of those "liar loans" with full knowledge he does not qualify and having written about how stupid they are. (Oh, and full knowledge on the part of the mortgage broker, too.)
  • gets rejected on the liar loan ... due to, well -- what appears to be excessive lying
  • reapplies for a "no ratio loan" (which to me seems to be just another type of liar loan) with some seemingly ridiculous piggy back loan -- both primary and secondary loans have a rate adjustment in 5 years.
  • very little down, no emergency fund, living paycheck to paycheck... and broke and unable to make the payments in 5 months.
  • no change in spending habits when they bought into their "dream" -- high end groceries, Starbucks, clothes, vacations, big christmases
  • began to finance daily expenses on their credit card to the tune of about $50,000
  • refinanced the house (you know, they always go up in value) into one of those famous subprime loans and tossed the credit cards into the house payment -- turning stupid unsecured debt into stupid secured debt "because of the great tax write off". Yeah, now non-payment on your new tie and half-caff latte will put your ass on the curb. Smart.
  • refinanced again. (geez, I hate to see how much closing fees this guy paid.... oh, wait, I bet those are tax deductible. That makes it "smart.") This time he'd brought his FICO up because he had actually paid his bills (with his house) and had lots of available credit.
  • puts a little dig into his wife, who at this time loses her job. Never you mind that there is no cushion. Never you mind that they are living at about twice their means. The financial genius makes it her fault. (Don't get me wrong, she's partially to blame here. Marriage is a business partnership.)
  • gloats that he "outlasted" the original mortgage lender, who went belly up. This, to me, is a way of saying that the taxpayer was already on the hook for the mortgage.
  • is offered a "catch up plan" by the 3rd generation mortgage rescuer. This plan is where he pays more per month and gets forgiven, yet he choses to let the mortgage go unpaid longer so he can see what sort of (probably government backed) loan modification program he can qualify for. Oddly, there's no talk of earning and banking that $3700 a month payment -- you know, just in case the modification comes through. Maybe he did. I have my doubts.

Sadly, the article ends with no mention of if (or how) he got out of the mess. My guess is that he's still in it... and hoping you'll buy his book to bail him out.

This is the face I now have on the whole situation. Forget the "poor me, I didn't understand, the bankers took advantage of me" guy. Mortgages should be understandable by someone that passed 6th grade math. It isn't that complicated. If it is, then -- well, maybe that's a sign you shouldn't be doing it. This makes me an even bigger fan of the Dave Ramsey crowd. There is no freedom like the freedom of owning your own life. Sure, there are days I panic. I've been out of a job for almost 3 years now. And I've lost lots of stock market opportunity by not being able to invest like I would like to in the down market. But, here I sit, still living on my own dime... and still friends with my wife.

So tell me: Why are we bailing out these people? If you ask me, both the borrowers and lenders here should be prosecuted for fraud, not bailed out.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Lessons from the middle: The conservative's guide

As a serious proponent of capitalism, I read my handful of conservative blogs. Conservatives think they are capitalists. They're not. Anyone that can make any apology or excuse for Bush Jr. is not even close. Being a true capitalist, I also read my share of blogs that are pretty liberal. Liberals don't seem to understand economic freedom and conservatives don't seem to understand personal freedom. But I can't bitch about both of them in one rant. I've already ranted about Lessons from the middle for liberals so this time the bitchiness is awarded to: the conservatives.

What has my ire up is the total failure of conservativism. In fact, the term is no longer even meaningful. They don't conserve anything. At least "liberal" is still correct -- they are liberal with the use of public funds. What the hell does conservatism conserve? Even amongst the conservatives that consider themselves skeptical, capitalist and politically centrist -- they are none of these. Zip. Zero. Zilch.

And if you look at the trends, the party is shrinking. It may be in the minority now, but you just wait. The downward curve is pretty steep and if you want to ride that curve to the bottom, then feel free. But if you want to fix the problem, listen up. If there is one key divisive issue it's religion. I am not saying you have to abandon it in your personal life. I am saying that if you want to grow your numbers or even have a chance in your hell of winning, you'd better listen up and get it out of your policy.

Conservatives pride themselves on being the party of "freedom." Put your party planks where your mouth is.

  • Quit arguing over endorsing religion by trying to put the Christian Protestant version of the ten commandments in public places. Put them in your churches where they belong and will be revered properly. You know you don't want some icon of Islam in your courthouse (even though there is an extremely similar set of Islamic commandments) and you don't want some silly atheist "there is no god" plaque either. We also know you don't want the Catholic or the Jewish versions -- and yes they are different. The reason you don't know about them is that you're too busy nailing up your own version.
  • Stop your arguing over abortion. And yes, this is a religious issue. You don't have to change your opinions. You don't have to stop peacefully protesting. Just stop trying to legislate. This is an individual rights issue and if you think the rights of the fetus are in conflict with the rights of the mother: check your premise. Individual rights do not conflict. (I actually have some ideas here... I just don't have the science background to back them up. Maybe someday...)
  • Stop trying to outlaw gay marriage. It's contract law. You make the same silly stupid arguments here that you made in the sixties about mixed race marriage. Tradition is not a logical reason for anything. We all damn well know you have no legal argument against this and it is all about what you've read in Leviticus. But we all also know you're picking and choosing your Leviticus references. When you have a Defense of Edible Crustaceans Act alongside your Defense of Marriage Act, I'll start to believe you endorse the whole book.
  • Don't argue over endorsing religion on your currency. Don't try to appeal to tradition and pretend it's been there all along. It hasn't.
  • Don't argue over endorsing religion in some silly pledge of allegiance. Don't pretend that religion has been there all along either. It hasn't.
  • Quit the war on drugs. Prohibition has never worked and never will. Criminalizing something stupid just creates a dangerous industry of organized crime. Don't play into that. Will smart people do stupid things and do drugs? Will innocent people die? Probably, but those things are happening now when it's criminalized. It's odd that you whould outlaw drugs because they are dangerous, but would defend your guns to your death. (And no, I am not arguing for gun control.)
  • Stop trying to insinuate religion into public schools. If you want to start a private school and teach it there -- go for it. But don't use the tax base to support it. This applies to prayer and it applies to teaching the "theory" of intelligent design. ID is not a theory. It's barely even a hypothesis. And if you say "it's only a theory" one more time about evolution then I'm going to require you say the same about Newtonion physics. "Theory" means something specific in science, and apparently not what you think it means.
  • Don't ever ever ever try to rationalize or apologize for Bush or anyone in his empire. (I know this doesn't apply to religion, but golly gee whiz, this is still so frickin common that I cannot ignore it.) His economic policies that got us into this mess and his economic rescue plans are philosophic equivalents for Obama's plans. Sticking up for Bush while you bash Obama makes you look foolish.
  • Fully and completely understand that separation of church and state protects both the church and the state. Christians cannot even fully agree how to interpret their own bible. (Wikipedia lists some 37 distinct different sects and sub-religions.) Just remember that yours may not always be the one on top making the laws. Maybe that's why some smart folk wanted them separated so long ago.

You want to be the party of freedom? Then embrace freedom -- all of it. Freedom includes the freedom to be stupid and the freedom to do things someone else doesn't agree with. If you want to waggle your tongues about freedom then drop religion from the party and try to bring the moderates and the libertarians back into the fold. If you don't want to do this, then drop out and get out of the way so the libertarians can make something of themselves.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Diet Myths and How to Profit from them

First off, a confession: This review is totally biased, petty and unfair. I am reviewing a book I haven't read based on comments the author has said. And I am doing it in a way that she doesn't really get a good rebuttal. That's wrong, wrong, wrong. And it's just the sort of thing she would do if this was a study on the success of low carb diets or the failure of low fat diets. It would be better to give it a fair read and a fair review, but that's just not my style. If only there was a foodie zealot that could take this on... but I digress.

So, since I didn't read (and have no plans to read) Diet Myths That Keep Us Fat: And the 101 Truths That Will Save Your Waistline--and Maybe Even Your Life, I'll just make pot shot comments on Nancy Snyderman's Today Show appearance (where no one was there to take an opposing viewpoint to her. How convenient.) Let's begin, shall we?

Now, just an observational bit I've noticed: On the whole, doctors really just do not have a whole lot of nutritional training. It's just not on their radar. If they can't cut it out or give you a pill for it, then it isn't medicine. And nutritional "science" ... doesn't have a whole lot of science at all going on. Historically, they've made a whole bunch of conclusions mostly based on correlations. And while correlations are interesting... they just don't prove causation. I'll make those same mistakes here, but I'm just an irritating guy poking fun. I don't even own a lab coat.

Nancy actually sort of agrees with the whole "doctors don't have much nutritional training" bit but explains that she knows what she is talking about because she has been fat before. Hmmm. I'm not so sure that's a qualification. If I've had a heart attack before that doesn't make me a heart specialist. In fact, her argument is sort of counter intuitive. I personally have never had a real weight issue. Shouldn't that make me more qualified in nutrition? It should.

Now, I have to admit that in this particular interview, she didn't go all postal and blather about eating low fat.... but she's done that before, so I'll hold her to it here. How did she say she gained weight? She "lived on vanilla wafers and saltines." Hmmmm. Sounds high carb to me (and low nutrition.) Coincidence?

How did we American's start getting fat? Well, according to Nancy it's because in "post World War II we learned how to preserve food so crackers replaced fresh bread...." [In her defense, she does mention other causes... but I got a saltine stuck in my throat with this one.] We learned how to preserve food post WWII? Honey, crackers date back to at least the Old Testament. Jews still eat unleavened bread at passover. That's a frickin cracker, okay? Canning was invented in response to a war, but just not the one you mention. It was the Napoleonic wars (late 1700's, early 1800's). Dried meats and veggies go back to pre-history. Sausage goes back to at least 589 BC. They've been pickling stuff in China since the dawn of time. What the hell are you talking about?

Some things that did happen in food history since WWII are:

  • invention (and later subsidy) of high fructose corn syrup (1957).
  • invention of hydrogenated oils in the 1890s led to use of "healthier" margarine in 1937 (actually due to scarcity, but later promoted for "health")
  • USDA recommended dietary allowances (1941) and its food pyramid (1988).
  • USDA manipulation of food economics by subsidy and restriction (1933 to the present).

Now, correlation isn't causation... and I have presented no hard evidence based on these things. But at least I presented correlation. At least I am not pulling stuff out of my ass and presenting it as fact.

Nancy also mentions she doesn't believe in denying certain foods (even though she has historically been a fat phobe and a "oh my god eat low fat or die" idiot) and says it's okay to go ahead and have dessert for dinner every now and then. (Emphasis mine. She is seriously talking about replacing real food with dessert.) And I am sort of on board here. I mean: self denial creates some sort of silly self defeating ritual, where you deny, deny, deny, GORGE. But there's always room for dessert. The sugar/fat combo, while delicious, is a sure short circuit of the body/brain mechanism. And eating them alone with little to slow down their absorption is a sure road to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and a whole host of other maladies. Just eat real food with enough protein/fat to fill you up. Then, occasionally allow dessert -- you'll find room for it.

So what's her diet advice? "No food restrictions. Eat 1200-1500 calories a day to maintain your weight." What you talkin bout Willis? First off, it is ridiculous to talk about calorie intake without talking about calorie burning. They're related. If you exercise more, you have to eat more. If you don't... not only are you doomed to failure, but eventually you're going to shut down and go into starvation mode. But what's seriously idiotic here is the recommendation of 1200 to 1500 calories for maintenance. You're a loony. 1200 calories might be a maintenance diet for a 50 year old woman that weighs 100 pounds, but otherwise it's insane unless you are one of those low metabolism starvation diet folks. (Okay, I exaggerate a little. It's what I do.) The basal metabolism (i.e. just sitting, breathing and pumping blood) for a normal person is more than that assuming no exercise whatsoever. If you don't believe me, calculate yours yourself.

Look, this is sort of a religious war (and by that I mean, the low fat side is worshiping something they can't prove and can't see). But if you really want to lose weight or control disease, stop demonizing fat and start looking into insulin response.